Friday, June 1, 2018

A Warning Regarding Your Digital Life

Rosanne Barr recently jumped to the front page of the news by getting her show cancelled based on a racist tweet in which she described a former adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, as the result if the "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj."  Ms. Jarrett, though in the public spotlight during the Obama administration, is now a private citizen and now largely out of the limelight.  We do not need to discuss why this is unacceptable.  Ms. Barr's tweet was quickly deleted after discovery and apologized, but it was too late.  The damage was done, including the aforementioned cancellation of the successful revival of the Rosanne show.

The incident raises several important lessons that can be learned.  I have two specific lessons that I would like to discuss.  

First, it is important to have control over what is put out for public consumption.  Ultimately, while there are many things about your digital life that you cannot control (thank you Cambridge Analytica), what you put in email, what you put on Facebook, what you put on Twitter, what photos you take and share, those are all choices fully in your control.  The privacy settings that you can adjust on your social media accounts are all in your hands.  Who you choose to friend or follow on social media, or more importantly to allow to follow you, is in your control.  Remember to take control of these things.  Be cognizant and conscientious regarding what you share and with whom.  Only friend and follow people you know and trust and interact with on social media, particularly those you could discuss in person or over the phone to confirm.  

Once information is out there, it is being used in ways you cannot imagine.  Interviewers look over the Facebook pages of interviewees and evaluate their fit for the company based on what they see in addition to the interview.  Colleges look at the pages of their applicants.  Any number of places can comb over your profiles to present background information on you.  A little Big Brother that we have all agreed to.  And accordingly, there is a benefit to being a little paranoid regarding what you have as your digital footprint.  

Particularly due to point number two.

Second, for something intangible, digital traces are surprisingly permanent.   Let's use the Rosanne Barr tweet for example.  Though she deleted the tweet, it is still very easy to find it online.  Screenshots, images, backups all still exist.  If you want to see it in all of its glory, it is out there and just a google search away.  It does not matter what social media platform you discuss, the result is still the same whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even Snapchat where the message was supposed to exist for only six seconds.  All it takes is one person to screen capture the message before it deletes and it can exist forever.  

This is the problem with sending nude pictures, particularly among underage students.  The kids do not realize that the pictures can be shared, can exist forever, can come back to haunt them for years regardless of how they were shared in the first place.  That does not even get into the potential child pornography issues that arise through the sharing of such photographs.  Again, all it takes is one person to save and share and you have a scandal.

The issue of digital content and its impact particularly resonates with me because of my job.  I sort through digital collections looking for the important material for trial.  You would be surprised what people write and keep in their work email.  Even attorneys who should know better than most (as seen from our attorney malpractice projects).  Emails are rife with discussions and content that should never be in work email, as there is never an expectation of privacy in work email.  It can and will be collected and/or audited.

Further, this job has shown me how truly indestructible digital content is.  This blog will outlive me.  It will exist on some server in some form in perpetuity likely.  Heck, all tweets prior to 2017 exist in the Library of Congress, though current tweets are now just a selection.  

The files on your computer are likewise very, very difficult to destroy.  Even if you "delete" it, even if you run a purge program, even if you wipe the hard drive, it still likely exists in some form.  To clean a hard drive, you really need to soak it in bleach, run it over with a powerful magnet, burn it, beat it repeatedly with a sledgehammer, and submerge it in a lake for a few weeks.  Even then, forensics might still be able to recover parts of it.

So be careful what you put on your computer.  Be careful what you put in email.  Be especially careful what you share on social media.

It's an important part of life now.  Live it deliberately.

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